Argonne’s Advanced X-rays Are Beaming the Way to Smarter Helmets

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December 31, 2019 | Originally published by Date Line: December 31 on

Researchers from Argonne National Laboratory, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, and Northwestern University are collecting and deciphering data from high energy x-rays beamed onto human skulls to better grasp bone mechanics and develop smarter, more protective military helmets. 

Argonne’s X-ray Science Division group leader and physicist Jonathan Almer told Nextgov how the lab’s advanced photon source, or APS, is helping detect “unprecedented” new insights into the makeup of skulls and their responses to impacts.

“At the end of the day, if this leads to a better helmet that makes the people wearing them less susceptible to injury—I mean that’s the ultimate goal,” he said.

Launched in 1996, APS hosts more than 5,500 researchers each year from across the public, private, and academic sectors to conduct experiments in many areas, such as chemistry and life sciences research, that could lead to the development of new materials and life-saving drugs. They’re attracted to the facility’s deeply penetrating X-rays that allow them to view the structure of matter at a molecular and atomic level. Almer said the APS is like “a giant microscope” that uses high-energy X-rays to see through materials, similar to the energy that doctors and dentists employ for advanced views of their patients’ bones.